Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 776
The Clash's first album is at last being released in the States. If you can legitimately refer to it as their first album, that is. Despite the identical cover … ["The Clash"] is a very different album from the one released over here in the summer of '77 as punk took hold and the rebellion seemed real.
Their debut was, as far as I'm concerned, the punk album—a classic, even if it's more dated (because it was so relevant at the time) than other contemporaneous classics such as, say, [Bruce Springsteen's] "Born To Run". It emerged at a time when everyone (well, everyone with some wit) was trying to understand what punk was saying, and when some of us, already excited by the youth and the music, were fervently hoping that the rebellion would turn out to have direction and meaning beyond the mere replacement of wrinkled superstars with acned ones.
"The Clash", then, was not only magnificent for its encapsulation of punk-as-rock (far rawer and faster than the Pistols' first records had been, angrier but less cynical, and thus a more accurate reflection of the initial spirit), but also for its determination to show the social background of the "insurrection". Here the rage is righteous and not just the inarticulate flailing mass of undirected masculine aggression that people read it as, that punk all too soon became.
This anger had clear origins and clear targets. "The Clash" was the response of the young victim to the callous failure of capitalism to create a fair, caring society.
In "Career Opportunities" the kid is offered the filthiest jobs with no other alternatives but the armed forces or crime (unless you include rock 'n' roll, the Clash's actual escape-route); in "Janie Jones" the boredom of the office job is deadly and the message "let them (i.e. employers, the Establishment) know exactly how you feel"; in "Remote Control" the singer is conditioned into accepting his lot, his own humanity discarded, and the source of this "repression" is isolated.
Okay, so these aren't mature political responses, developed and articulate—that wasn't the point. But as a response to an unjust world it certainly penetrated deeper than the "Money. Fun. Boilers." reactionary hedonism that rock always slips into so easily.
Besides, its claim to come from a deprived street level, so unfashionable now, made it all the more moving at the time. The picture conjured up in "London's Burning" of the kid running through the concrete wasteland of the housing estate, with cars racing around him and televisions mesmerising the tower blocks above him, was unforgettable—if punk had a visual backdrop, this alienating urban scene was it….
All of these are included on the American album, together with … "What's My Name", "Hate And War", and "I'm So Bored With The USA" (the last being another illustration of the Clash's great value—the rant at TV cop culture is predictable, but no one else at the time would have used such a song to attack America's support for the world's right-wing dictators).
But they are jumbled around to accommodate four of the group's singles since 1977, so that the first side begins with "Clash City Rockers" and travels via "Complete Control" and "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" to arrive at "I Fought The Law".
The wisdom of all this is dubious, since the original album was punk's quintessential document, and the few Americans who want to understand what it meant will hardly be aided by this infusion into it of later Clash themes and attitudes….
[The] middle of the reconstituted first side is nothing short of devastating, containing as it does The Clash's two greatest individual achievements, the magnificent "Complete Control" (ironically juxtaposed with "Remote Control", to great effect) and "White Man", as well as "White Riot" and "London's Burning".
Powerful stuff, and I'm glad of my copy of that, yet the end of the side undermines the whole album. The closer is Sonny Curtis's "I Fought The Law", which is attractive enough musically but is nothing more really than a piece of outlaw chic.
"The Clash" was fond of dwelling on the battle with the law, but in its honesty it transcended the level of mere chic. The inclusion of "I Fought The Law" on this pseudo-debut mars it seriously at the same time as it asks the Clash an uncomfortable question: Did they get lost in the myths about rock 'n' roll heroes that pervade the self-congratulatory "Clash City Rockers" and "Jail Guitar Doors,"… or will they come out the other side still fighting? I'm still hoping.
Chris Brazier, "Second Bite at the Apple," in Melody Maker, September 1, 1979, p. 13.
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